Every athlete yearns to make it to the top, spending restless nights dreaming of playing with and against the best competition in the world. If they make it, it’s a dream come true—the fulfillment of years of work, dedication and sacrifice. At the peak, they field interviews from across the world and have legions of dedicated fans who know their story and follow their every play.

For every superstar, there are many who make it up the mountain, only to slide right back down. But they’re still there, trying to figure out what went wrong and make some sense of what comes next.

Last year, that was Russell “Fctfctn” Campbell.

Fctfctn lived his dream of playing in the Overwatch League in 2018, when he was signed to the Houston Outlaws, the team he wanted to join more than any other. It should have been a storybook ending for a player who had propelled himself to the top of the game through sheer will—years of running his own teams, balancing college while keeping amateur teams and friendships together without any coaching support or financial security. He climbed higher, inch by inch, until he made it to Overwatch Contenders with Faze Clan, and then to the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, and finally, after missing the initial wave of Overwatch League signings, to Houston.

But then his story was cut short when he was released by the Outlaws at the end of the inaugural season. The dream he spent years building came crashing down in an instant.

“It hurt,” he readily admits. “I was leaving what I thought was basically a family. It was a really tough time.”

The Overwatch League went on without Fctfctn, and that easily could have been the end of his story—an incredible experience, but one that wasn’t meant to last. At the time, he was 25 years old, already on the high end of the age range for Overwatch pros. Was it time to pack up his mouse and keyboard and move on from the dream he had briefly lived?

Not a chance.

One thing players acquire while climbing the ranks is determination, and with age comes perspective. Fctfctn knew it was a setback, but he also knew himself and what he was capable of, and he was determined to prove it to the world, no matter how devastated he was.

“It was painful leaving the team, but at the same time, I knew I had to leave in order to progress,” he said. “I knew I had the talent to start somewhere in the Overwatch League.”

Fctfctn landed with the Florida Mayhem’s Contenders team during the offseason and found himself in a new situation without a clear direction. But this time, things were different. The younger players on the team looked up to him, and he was ready to take a leadership role. The story of Fctfctn, former Overwatch League competitor, gave way to the story of Fctfctn, Overwatch League veteran.

“Being on the older end of the spectrum, you’ve experienced more in the world, and your values are a little different,” he explained. “I used that to solve problems, to think about strategies and interpersonal relationships. I’ve learned to be a good teammate and to know what I want from teammates.

“Before I joined Mayhem Academy, I was strongly opinionated, but I didn’t quite take that leadership role. But when you move down to Contenders from Overwatch League it sort of becomes a necessity—you’ve been there, you have the experience and know the pressures. I realized my teammates looked up to me, and I learned to be a strong leader and bring us all together.”

It wasn’t easy, but under Fctfctn’s leadership, the team made huge strides, becoming the team that ended finally Fusion University’s dominant winning streak. Their play began to turn some heads—including those of Overwatch League coaches. The team’s ascent culminated in a blockbuster May trade that sent Fctfctn, Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey, and Johannes “Shax” Nielsen to the LA Valiant in exchange for main tank Pan-Seung “Fate” Koo.

“I had become friends with everyone on Academy, and it was bittersweet to leave,” Fctfctn recalled. “But I knew it I needed to do it. The goal was always to improve and get back to the Overwatch League.”

He’s done a lot more than just getting back to the league. He’s helped lead a monumental turnaround for the Valiant, who had a lowly 3-11 record before the trade but went on a 9-3 run since. Fctfctn was the spark the Valiant needed, and they now carry that momentum into their biggest weekend of the year. Not only are they facing off against rivals San Francisco Shock and LA Gladiators with a shot to make the postseason playoffs if they can pull out a single victory, but they’re doing so in front of a massive home crowd as part of the KIT KAT® Rivalry Weekend at The Novo in downtown Los Angeles.

 “It’s amazing to be a part of this,” Fctfctn said. “When I saw the homestand weekend and the fan turnout in Dallas, I knew right then this was going to be really successful, that this was going to be something big. My family hasn’t ever had a chance to see me play in person, but my mom is coming out on Saturday. I’m really excited for this weekend.”

Every professional has a story. Few have been as long or as winding as Fctfctn’s, and while he hasn’t had much time to take it all in—“my foot has been on the gas ever since I got released from Houston back in September”—he knows better than perhaps anyone in the league just how fleeting this opportunity can be.

This time, he wants to write the ending to his own story.

“I’m going to have to take a lot of time to reflect on everything after this season,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of highs and a lot of lows. It’s really given me a lot of perspective, and it’s helped me to push everyone to be better, even when times are tough.

“Our coach said something recently that really stuck out to me: the journey is the journey, and the Overwatch League is definitely a journey. If we stay together and keep pushing forward, we can achieve the highest highs.”